Did I know growing up that I was half awake? No, indeed not. And I don’t think my parents knew either. They nor I realized that I wasn’t fully experiencing life. Last night over dinner, it became a funny anecdote that I began smoking at 37 years of age — What most people explore at 17 or even less. I laughed too but it was bitter-tasting. No one was laughing at me but I felt in that moment the loss of all those years. The resounding echo of emptiness.
I found myself telling my story to these new friends and as I did each season of my life, each transition, began and ended with an aspiration I had and my father shutting me down. He had very different ideas about what I should do and become. I think he was afraid for me on some level and I don’t know why.
Now if you don’t know me well, let me reassure you that I can be a formidable person. I ran my own communications department for many years in my twenties. And my brilliant husband sometimes quakes when he knows I’m out of sorts. But as I described “allowing” on each of those occasions someone (usually my father) to tell me no it hit me again, very hard, how much loss I feel for a life half-lived. I acquiesced to his will over and over again. As my kids would say, I caved.
I am a strong person, but I lived most of my life seeming weak. I got the message that I could not make good decisions — that my choices were poor and would result in consequences that I couldn’t see.
My mother’s Feng shui coach described her recently as an incredibly a “strong and self-aware person.” And I was shocked and almost corrected her. As I tilted my head, looked from her to my mother, I thoughts about it further. Was my mother strong? Is my mother strong? She has always seemed weak to me. She didn’t leave my father when he put her head through a wall early in their marriage. She rarely stood between us — defended us — when dad was on a tirade. She gave up her career choices, her health, her aspirations so that his career moved forward. Things I always saw as weak. But to have survived my father’s anger, his cruel behavior and abusive treatment for 40+ years she must be strong! The same must go for me.
I never stood up to my father. I learned to be quiet, to not express my opinions or sense of humor. I learned quite early that it wasn’t worth it. I have up. Being sensitive and a peacemaker by nature and being intuitively aware of others emotional world was a combination that made for a devastating childhood. But the same must be true for me. I am strong to have survived. Strong to be able at 40 to say I want to know myself. To be able to bravely face the fear of not knowing your inner self and pursue it.
It is too easy to look back on time with regret. Much too simple to think of all I could have done, or should have said. Especially in an abusive relationship, you think of what you wanted to say sometimes years later. Too late! Especially when the perpetrator is dead!!!
Ah, but if only we could live in now. Carpe Diem, yes, seize this day. Goethe, said this:
“Then indecision brings its own delays,
And days are lost lamenting o’er lost days.
Are you in earnest?
Seize this very minute;
What you can do, or dream you can, begin it;
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”
I am longing for the power and magic needed to live for today. I do not want to linger another second in yesterday and wonder what might have been. There is too much grief there. Too many regrets. I must forgive myself for not being the person I might have been. And, surely, forgive my father which I have. I must make today what I like.
And, it is very important for me to know that I need not repeat that legacy in my own children. I will not, I do not. I want to embrace their unique interests, fan the flame of their passions, allow them to dream.
If it is true what CS Lewis said: “You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” then I must figure out not the past any longer, but what the future will be.